Practical advice for new parents

Thumb Sucking

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For expecting parents, viewing an ultrasound of their son or daughter can be a tremendously joyful experience. For a lucky few, it is even more amazing when they witness their tiny baby on the screen sucking his or her thumb. It's incredible to think that humans have the instinct to suck their thumbs even before they are born.

However, the utterly natural and adorable behavior of thumb sucking can quickly become a battle of wills between parents and children when it continues into the preschool years and beyond.

For the vast majority of children, thumb sucking is not an issue and is usually stopped spontaneously without incident by about four years of age. Many children naturally lose their interest in sucking on pacifiers, thumbs, and bottles, when they begin drinking liquids from a cup instead of being bottle or breastfed. And, the American Dental Association (ADA) states that thumb sucking will not cause long term dental or jaw problems unless it continues beyond five years of age.

It had long been believed that older children who suck their thumbs lacked maturity or had latent emotional problems. Rather, researchers who have studied thumb sucking children and adults found only one common denominator amongt them. They almost always had an extended history of battling over the issue with their parents or caregivers. In fact, many parents with good intentions actually promoted thumb sucking by actively removing the thumb from their child's mouth.

Because children often use thumb sucking as a means of comfort when they are tired, bored, or stressed, this natural developmental phase can become ingrained if pressure is used to stop it. Most experts believe that children will not stop thumb sucking until they choose to do it themselves.

Parents can facilitate this process by creating a positive and supportive environment for this to occur. Incorporating the help of a pediatrician and a dentist can also be useful as they can communicate particulars on why it's important to stop thumb sucking. They can also recommend bedtime appliances and other techniques that can help speed up the process of breaking the habit. Children also respond well to peer motivation and will often quickly cease thumb sucking once other children begin to comment on it.

There are also products on the market that can be applied to a child's thumb that can make thumb sucking unappealing. However, children have an uncanny ability to develop a taste for these and often will continue the habit regardless of the flavor of their thumb.

Rest assured, almost all children will stop thumb sucking by the time they reach kindergarten, and there is little need to battle this fleeting habit. Before you know it, the vision of your adorable little tike with a thumb in his or her mouth will only be a distant memory.

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